Remembering Manto: How Would Have He Survived in These Dark Times



We, the technically alive, have to sit up and ask ourselves what can we do to contain the human suffering and destruction


Humra Quraishi

MAY stands for Manto – after all, this rebel writer was born on 11 May, many summers back, in 1912, in Punjab’s Samrala, in district Ludhiana.

For the last few days I have been thinking what if Saadat Hasan Manto was alive today in these dark times! Would he have survived? Nah, it’s not just a question about the virus but the human disasters and destruction taking place all round us. Murders of the patients taking place, where even in the so-called elite hospitals of the country, our fellow citizens are dying gasping for that vital oxygen flow! Yes, these oxygen related deaths can be termed murders and the murderers are the political rulers of the day. Quite obviously, the doctors and the health care workers are doing their best to save human lives, but they cannot be expected to be running around here and there, filling and refilling the oxygen cylinders. It’s the job of the government and the establishment that the life-saving medicines and uninterrupted supply of oxygen is available in every hospital. Together with that, there ought to have been enough bandobast for the checking and rechecking of electric wirings and fittings in all medical units so that the patients are not burnt to death. Not on pyres but atop hospital beds! Never before so many patients have perished in hospital fires as in these recent weeks! Traumatic! But who seems bothered! It’s a failed system that stinks, with corruption and rot spreading out. We have been left in the lurch by the political treachery that’s on and ongoing!

If Manto was alive today, his nerves couldn’t take the strain of the sheer anarchy ongoing in the name of governance. Perhaps, he would have questioned the rulers of the day for not quitting, for not stepping down, from those various posts, amidst the ongoing allegations of gross misrule.

Perhaps, Manto would have also written a detailed letter to the American President and also to the Presidents of the other foreign lands who have sent plane loads of medicines and oxygen cylinders, telling them to see to it that those life savers do not remain stuffed at our airports or ware houses but are swiftly and immediately despatched to the dying patients! In fact, during his lifetime Manto had once written to the then US President but couldn’t get to post that letter or post card as he couldn’t manage to get a postage stamp but today he wouldn’t really face any such hindrance. He would have to just about offload his thoughts or words to any of the social media enthusiasts and his worries and apprehensions would reach the White House.

Manto would have written many more short and long stories, dripping with human pain. He would have tried to reach out to the hundreds of children, freshly orphaned and deserted by relatives after their parents couldn’t survive the coronavirus strain together with the ongoing strains of the failed system. A governance that failed them.

Ah yes, Manto being a sharp man would have focused on the political treachery that’s on and the communal poisoning unleashed on the hapless masses. He would have exposed the political lot, who are continuing to rule even as we are dying! After all, today, we, the technically alive are not really alive. Deadened we are. Something or everything has hit the soul. And when the soul cries out, then do realize that all’s not going okay and we, the technically alive, have to sit up and ask ourselves what can we do to contain the human suffering and destruction.

And if Manto would have been imprisoned for baring his stark views against the government of the day, he would have definitely written on the plight of his fellow jailed inmates. He would have detailed the congestion in the chest is getting compounded by the congestion in the prison cells. He would have shrieked out this basic query: have the jails been set up to reform the alleged or suspected or labelled or the framed wrong-doer, or are they centres to suffocate! Suffocate even those cries for urgent help! Nah, we can’t get to hear any of the SOS coming out from jails, prisons and detention centres.

In fact, last week, the jailed former MP of Rashtriya Janata Dal ( RJD), 53-year-old Mohammad Shahabuddin’s deteriorating health condition in New Delhi’s Tihar jail leading to his death in a hospital death, remains shrouded in a haze, with his family and political colleagues raising several pertinent questions on his death… In fact, Jitan Ram Manjhi, the former Bihar Chief Minister and president of the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), has demanded a judicial inquiry into his death. And Shahabuddin’s family has alleged that some conspiracy had been underway that led to his demise…Who knows what all takes place behind those high walls! How alive are the alive! Deadened we have all become with so many tragedies heaped on us.

I’m certain Manto would have congratulated Mamata Banerjee for her battle against the fascist forces, defeating them with all possible will power and determination! He would have told all the secular parties to come together for the big defining battle of 2024.
Manto would have said and uttered and screamed out that it’s time to wake up from that longish spell of hibernation and reach out to the alive around.

This pandemic has shown us the uncertainty around. Each single day we are alive we ought to thank our Creator for keeping us alive…and we ought to reach out to any human being in need of help and assistance.

Humra Quraishi is a Delhi-based writer-columnist-journalist. She is also the author of several books including Kashmir: The Untold Story.

Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.


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